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tv   Ethical Perspectives on the News  ABC  October 2, 2016 5:30am-6:00am CDT

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air date 9-11- 2016 automation and jobs speaker 1: ethical perspectives on the news is produced by the inter- religious council of linn county, which is solely responsible for its content. the views and opinions expressed on this program do not necessarily reflect those of the staff and management of kcrg-tv9. bob sessions: good morning. welcome to ethical perspectives on the news. i'm bob sessions, retired philosophy professor. as always, economic issues are front and center in this election year. both presidential candidates realize that many americans are stressed about their economic
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solutions focus on globalization and job creation. trump wants to cut taxes on the ruling class to stimulate job creation, and clinton proposes an increase in government sponsored work. they both oppose the trans- pacific trade pact being pushed by obama. neither of them, though, nor their fellow politicians down the ballot, pay much attention to what actually may be more important in the changing job scene, and that is automation. think about it. a hundred years or so ago, nr less than two percent do. why? the mechanization of farming. the same thing has been happening in every sector of the economy. law offices used to employ dozens of scribes to type each individual document. now, one person, using a computer, can do the work that used to require many. robots are ubiquitous in factories, often replacing the majority of workers; telephone operators are vague memories,
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changed if not eliminated by automation, the speed of this change has accelerated to the point where some pundits are talking about an automation bomb. today, we will discuss this third wheel of our economy to gain a more complete and realistic perspective on what's happening with jobs and what our responses to this powerful force might be. we're very fortunate this morning to have three very capable and experienced pundits to help us wade through this tangled thicket. to my the david w. wilson chair in business ethics at uni. next to him is ben hunnicutt who is the professor of research studies at the university of iowa who, for years i know, been working hard on this topic of leisure and work relationships. finally, peter fisher who is the research director at the iowa policy project. thank you, gentlemen, for being here this morning.
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on the scope and the speed of automation in the workplace in the united states or around the world. craig vansandt: if you don't mind, i'll start. i teach business and it's no secret that business owners would much rather have robots in the factory than humans. they don't need vacations; they don't go to the bathroom; they don't go on strike. machines make life a lot easier for managers in just going to continue to get faster and faster. ben hunnicut: well, automation is not a new thing by any measure. it has been around for a couple of centuries. i'm a historian, so my perspective is for the most part historical. in the 19th century, technology, automation was welcomed.
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higher wages and shorter hours. that sort of view has changed in the 20th century, so that automation has emerged as a threat, something that takes away our jobs rather than provides us with a richer life, a fuller life, more stuff, more time to enjoy the things that we are making. now, for some reason - and this is what i call in my classes the great leisure mystery - for some reason, we've changed our opinion about automation. we fear it. it's going to take
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idea why this transformation occurred, but i'd just like to put it out there as a mystery. at one time we looked automation as a great boon. technology brings us more stuff, more time. now, we're talking about the threat. peter fisher: well, yeah. just building on that, i think viewing automation as a problem ... i guess i'd like to step back for a minute. automation is just productivity which is historically the source of rising standard of living. if you couldn't produce more per hour of labor, we'd still be living in caves and throwing spears. productivity growth is essential to a foundation for rising prosperity, more leisure time, more purchasing power, more goods and services.the question is, where are those gains in productivity going to go? to me, the problem of the last twenty years or so, is that productivity has
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wages have failed to keep pace with rising productivity. that's the source of the problem of inequality. the gains from productivity, producing more value per hour of labor, the labor isn't getting it. the people at the top are getting it. bob sessions: of course. let's take the great scapegoat is, "well, all the jobs are going to china, etc.." of course, many manufacturin g jobs did go to china, or bangladesh, or pakistan, or wherever it might be. one of the things that i've been reading is that actually there are a lot of new jobs being created, with higher tech kinds of jobs, so that's not entirely it. i think the mystery that ben pointed to is really an important one to talk about and
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living and the increase in productivity that keeps going up. another way to put it, if you look at the graphs, the wealth keeps increasing, almost exponentially over the last forty years and the income for middle americans has stayed very stagnant for that forty years. ben hunnicut: can i build on that, bob? bob sessions: sure. ben hunnicut: not only have wages stagnated, but part of the great leisure mystery that i ask my class is that leisure time, having increased f virtually in half over what i've called the century of shorter hours, from 1820 to 1920 or so, and then they stabilize. after 1930, 1940, there has been no increase in shorter hours. in fact, since the mid-1970s, we're working longer. about five weeks per year longer now. wages stabilized, hours have gotten longer, so why is this happening? why is this historical anomaly before us? bob sessions: let me put one
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it is that part of the rationale for how our system runs is that the people who put in the input, the effort and the resources and so on, should reap the benefits, right? okay? number of hours but productivity is going up because of automation, the people who own the automation - who buy the robots and so on - they're the ones who should get the profit. it's that model of the connect between who gets the wealth and the effort that goes into it, so the workers don't deserve it because they, after all, didn't buy the
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employers as job creators, yes. drives me crazy. consumers are the job creators. they're the ones who are spending money, creating a demand for the products. if it weren't for them there wouldn't be any need for companies or workers. craig vansandt: i think that's one of the fallacies of your argument. the only reason we produce things is so people can consume them and, to the extent that workers can't earn income, an interesting book written several years ago, martin ford, it's called "the lights in the tunnel," which makes that argument that if we continue to concentrate wealth in fewer and fewer hands, and machines do more and more work, pretty soon that system breaks down because there is no consumption
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observation in the 1920s. he thought that he needed to pay workers enough so that they could buy his automobiles. otherwise, he wouldn't have a market. he also would give theme enough free time in order for them to use his automobiles. that's why the idea of wages and hours went together for years and years and at least for me he was famous, perhaps not anymore - but for saying free time will come because of automation. free time will come. the only choice of modern people is unemployment or leisure. you've got to find some way of taking that time and using it in a useful way. bob sessions: let's come back to iowa. we talked about farming and mechanization there. it's apace.
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self-driving and planters that put the input into the fields because of connections to satellites, and farmers just have to get the machine down the field, if they even do that anymore.one person can do the work of dozens in the fairly recent past and it's really continued. one way to look at that is, "well, we don't need so many workers;" and everybody wealth is being produced, all this grain is being produced, you've got all these people who are hungry, okay? for work and also for enough wealth to live on. why not spread the work around? okay, so people wouldn't have to work so many hours?" is that idealistic? ben hunnicut: that actually happened in ... i'm always talking about the past but it's a good example-bob
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great depression, what i consider the salient political debate was share the work. the thirty hour bill was in congress, the black-connery bill, that just about passed. i think it would have changed the course of american history but it was co-opted by fair labor standards act which established a forty hour baseline. the share the work movement was at the heart of the politics of the great depression and herbert hoover's term craig vansandt: i think there are two levels at which we need to address that question. one is at the individual level. how do i, who gained a large part of my self- identity as a college professor, if i don't have that work, how do i define my own value? i think the other level of this is a societal level. pretty much since - and i'm treading on your territory here
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beginning of time as i understand it, we have organized our societies around gainful employment. if we are truly at a place now where we don't need many people to do the work because it can all be done by machines, that puts an onus on society to start rethinking how we value members of society. bob sessions: not just value, but how do we provide people with the means of living? craig vansandt: true. bob sessions: peter, did you have thoughts on this? peter fisher: well, yeah, a couple of thoughts. i think that's the crucial question as a society is to decide what we do with the gains from productivity. spread it around in terms of both work and leisure. there are some people that have made these
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need to have a class of people who don't work at all and guaranteed income. the rest of us keep working forty, fifty hours a week. that doesn't appeal to me.i don't know why we don't have work sharing instead, but i also think it's important to keep it in perspective. i don't think this day is right around the corner because if you look, productivity last fifteen years. it isn't picking up. increased quite a bit in the 90s as a result of introduction the internet and computers and white collar jobs, but since then the problem has been slow productivity. if robots are taking over our jobs, they're doing an awful slow job at it because it should show up in productivity gains, and in greater
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sessions: are there places in the world where that hasn't happened? the productivity hasn't slowed down? peter fisher: that's a good question. ben hunnicut: i think that some of the developing countries isinitially making great gains- bob sessions: in part because they're going through what we went through years ago, right? ben hunnicut: this idea of full time work is a brand new idea. it comes out of roosevelt's administration . the idea that working hours somehow will remain at administration , the 20s, people such as john maynard keynes fully expected technology would give us a two and a half hour day by 1980. george bernard shaw and a whole list of those people. the idea that work is full time, full employment is a new idea and the desperate efforts that we make as a government to assure everyone a full time job has been the center of politics since roosevelt's administration. that, i think is
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meaningful job, i think is a utopian dream that is not going to stand the test of time. it's going to be hard to sustain. craig vansandt: i ran across a quote that a hungarian she said, "the problem is not the problem. the problem is your attitude towards the problem." we're talking here about the threats that automation pose to employment. what if we look at this as an opportunity to explore ways to expand our humanity? bob sessions: suggestions for what that might
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what's your- craig vansandt: well, i'm an educator, i would make the argument that we should make much greater use of liberal education, liberal arts education, trying to help students explore the question of how they should live and what they love. university education has in large part become a technical training school for jobs. that, i think, is the wrong direction. ben hunnicut: it's an uphill battle to reintroduce an idea that education, the liberal arts, or to teach people how to live rather than how to make a living. it's an uphill battle. one of my heroes, robert hutchins of the university of chicago, the former president, had that as his central mission at the university of chicago and he was
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sell. being a professor of leisure studies, let me tell you i don't get no respect. it is a hard sell in a culture such as ours that puts such a great value on work. what robert hutchins called "salvation by work." i think that our concept of a job is something very near religious. it is the center of our being; it is where we live and move and idea. it hasn't always been like that. this is brand new. craig vansandt: i speak as a business professor, probably as a part of the problem, but i think you're right. people look to their work for meaning now, where they used to look to their family or
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hunnicut: well, good luck on that one. a recent harris poll shows that seventy, seventy five percent of people that they polled were not engaged at work, over fifty percent were actively disengaged. they're not finding prince charming at their job, a job full of meaning, purpose, identity and so forth they're finding the pointy-headed boss. a place that has alienated, that is foreign, that doesn't provide meaning and purpose. having jobs like that, going to school, i identify with that. as one of the women at kellogg's told me when i was interviewing for my book about "kellogg's six-hour days," she looked over, "anybody but an idiot or a college professor knows it's way better to be off work than have to go work." i think that idea of a job with meaning and purpose and
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so. more than half of the world has to work just to put food on the table. ben hunnicut: the job is not a lot of fun. craig vansandt: right. bob sessions: you want to get in here? peter fisher: yeah, i was just going to say, if we view the problem as how do we share the gains from productivity increases through automation or other methods, how do we share those gains more broadly and equitably? years, there's a number of problems. stagnation of the minimum wage is certainly one policy that's allowed to help inequality to increase. the other thing that's happened is, a long secular decline in the share of the labor force that's represented by labor unions, and you can track inequality across the country,
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union representatio n decreases. if you want to do something about inequality, one of the most important things you can do is figure out how to get national legislation passed for the first time in probably decades by now but- ben hunnicut: this one's tough. peter fisher: right, that increases the ability of the unions to organize. the share of the an all time low and continues to go down. bob sessions: millennials. that's a big category, an age group, and of course they're different depending on where they grew up, and their educations and so on. a lot of twenty somethings, let's call them, are not fooled by this idea that, "i'm going to have a job all my life, it's going to be the same job." they're ready to move every few years, they don't think
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they're hoping to be able to spend as much time as possible doing fun activities, doing community activities, socializing, and so on. i do think there is a big sector of that generation that is without a lot of help from you and me then, figuring it out that something's wrong with that old story that their parents tried to live out. in experiences over owning things, or over having a good salary; experiences rather than consuming material goods. there's a new dichotomy aborning that's just on the horizon, the experience economy. it's really fascinating; something that i've just recently taken hold of and am reading about, it's a wonderful
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the manufacturin g service, now the experience economy. people need both time and money to experience traveling, to experience the build-a-bear workshop, you need the time and experience- you're right, the millennials are much more portable. craig vansandt: i hope you're right, i really do, but every time i hear about what the millennial generation values, i think back to our generation. all of us grew up in the 60s some level t change the world. we're the ones that we're arguing against now. something happened between the 60s and today. ben hunnicut: it was the function of age thing. craig vansandt: well, it could be. bob sessions: well, the need for stability. i'm assuming that's another dimension we haven't talked about. naturally the reason that people are desperate for jobs and so on is because you have to have one, and you have to have a lot of it, in order to make enough to have a decent standard of living and so on. a lot of that
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with really community facilities. you know, roads, and schools, and i mean the list goes on and on. i think healthcare should be one of those; instead of spending so much by some individual and the other people not having it, a lot of employers would just as soon as have universal healthcare. that way they could do the job sharing thing, because they don't have to pay that extra money out for medical, costs to me a lot of what we need to change is in those areas that are common facilities and common resources and so on, that people are having to get individually, and therefore people are getting in
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different access and so on. craig vansandt: i think there's another point to be made about our economic system and capitalism. they're all different flavors of capitalism. in the us, we have a very individualistic style of capitalism. if you go to the much more type of communitarian capitalism, and i don't know. you talk about difficult sells, i don't know how we would move the us system of capitalism to a more communitarian style, but it sounds to me like that's the kind of thing you're describing. bob sessions: i think healthcare is our major example of where we could've done that. public transportation is starting to happen there, at least at local levels, and
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chicago and so on, but there are places that are getting better transportatio n. people are using it. ben hunnicut: again, we're in the middle of a political upheaval, where government is the problem, as ronald reagan, more and more people, a larger percentage of the voters believe that. it's a hard sell to go the other direction. couple minutes, time goes so fast on this program. why don't you just give me your sense of how you would like to see us go, so that this automation revolution or bomb could be turned into something that is desirable, that people would really benefit from? two minutes. craig vansandt: okay. i think it's a question that society needs to grapple with. this is
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the individual level. ben hunnicut: two minutes. my last book - i hate to advertise my book, "free time: the forgotten american dream" - what i would like to see happen is the representation coming back of the old appreciation of what free time would offer us; a time for family, a time for community, a time for spiritual development. if i could bring back people like walt whitman, fanny cohen who were champions of free time, who saw in america's future a great flowering of civilization based on this new time, if i could represent th maybe that my work as a scholar would be successful. peter fisher: i think a return of the idea of work sharing or a new fair labor standards act where we defined full-time work as something that ought to be on the agenda, but the main thing is getting society to talk about this, and to get out of the situation that we're in now, where we're stuck with the idea of a class of people working forty hours a week, and others without jobs, some other means of support. those aren't by any means the only alternatives. bob sessions: well certainly, it would help if we would in political dialogue,
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mexicans' fault, it's not the chinese's fault, it's not the muslim's fault and so on. we're part of a world economy, and we need to change how we view that. well, we could go on for a long time, it's a wonderful topic. thank you gentlemen for being with us this morning. craig vansandt: thank you. ben hunnicut: you're welcome. bob sessions: thank you for joining us for ethical perspectives on the news. our next area of low pressure is knocking on the door today with a chance of showers and thunderstorms. it appears there will be two rounds of rainfalw arriving in our northwest counties early today. there should be a substantial break with very little activity around the midday hours, with storms increasing in coverage again for the late afternoon and evening hours. these storms may impact some football games, and they are worth monitoring today and tonight. the weekend
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sunday
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overnight, downtown cedar rapids looked to almost be back to normal. businesses have started to reopen post flood 2016. eight years after the 2008 flood basically destroyed it, a cedar rapids church celebrates avoiding water damage this time around. and while we clean up here in eastern iowa, the caribbean is getting ready for a whollup. the latest on hurricane matthew. you're t from your 24 hour news source, this is the kcrg-tv9 saturday morning news. good morning and thanks for joining us. we begin with first alert storm team meteorologis t britley ritz. waking up with temperatures into the 50s

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